DJ Speedsick drags techno to unsettling places
The Madison-based noise and electronic musician plays May 17 at the Tip Top.
Two of this year’s releases from DJ Speedsick, Nothing Lasts and the forthcoming Blood Mixed With Shit Mixed With Blood, churn through layers of guttural techno, experimental noise, and busted-up acoustic guitar. Some tracks feel decisively like one thing or another—unmoored noise on "Seeing Sevens" from Blood, pummeling acid techno on "Northside LSD" from Nothing Lasts, some oddly tuned, plodding guitar on Blood opening track "Blood Loss." But more often than not, Madison resident Alec Eberhardt's project, which is slated to play a May 17 show at the Tip Top Tavern, lets elements from different corners of music pile up and rot into each other, covering it all in a dissociative haze of distortion and filth.
Listening to DJ Speedsick and trying to sort out what exactly you're supposed to be hearing or expecting is a lot like talking with Eberhardt. It all moves very fast, there are a lot of ideas flying around, and there are several possible explanations for everything, each one as energetic and valid as the last. The discussion might turn to Jandek (who once recorded a track called "Rain In Madison," which Eberhardt covered) or emo-rap or the gritty experimental music of Aaron Dilloway, and there might be some mentions of biker-gang lore and the history of amphetamines. DJ Speedsick's strong techno influence gives listeners at least one point of reference to hang onto, but even at its most straightforward, Speedsick's music is more about texture than it is about dance-floor functionality.
"That's kind of a result of not knowing what I'm doing," Eberhardt says. "I make all my music on one sampler, pretty much, and the only reason I started doing this project in the first place is because a roommate of mine in Chicago was short on utilities and gave it to me to cover him… This was a piece of gear that fell into my lap and I was just like, 'OK, guess I'm gonna start making techno now.' That was like December 2016."
Eberhardt drifted up to Madison a few months later. He grew up in the Milwaukee suburbs before moving to Chicago, and decided to move here after attending a party at the house where he now lives. "I experienced a rave in Wisconsin for the first time," he recalls. "It just kind of changed everything. I was kind of struggling with a lot of identity shit and I was kind of struggling with 'Who the fuck am I, and why have things gone the way they have?' Going back to my home state and seeing the version of what I was doing in Chicago happening, like, where I'm from, and with not cool art-school kids...that totally reconnected me with where I came from." He also played guitar for Madison hardcore outfit No Question for a brief spell, drawing on his experiences playing in grindcore bands in high school.
While Eberhardt initially started using DJ Speedsick as a placeholder name for some techno tracks he posted on SoundCloud and never intended for it to become a real project, it has begun to stick. (Except when people misspell it as "DJ Speedstick" on show flyers and Facebook events.) The few local shows he's played included an opening slot for Yves Tumor at the Memorial Union in January (his set that night was all about austere, driving techno), and he's attracted attention around the internet for both his original work and his remix of a Lil Peep track.
"The way I record Speedsick music is the same way I recorded punk music when I was a teenager—running it into four-tracks and just not knowing what I'm doing, but listening and seeing what this thing does to it and going, 'Oh, that sounds cool,' and just all this experimentation," he says. "Everything I've ever recorded has been a process experiment, spending hours fucking around with different configurations and then just pressing play."
Nothing Lasts includes some of the first tracks Eberhardt made after moving to Madison, and definitely focuses on the project's techno side, albeit with swerves into industrial music, sound collage, and trap. Blood Mixed With Shit Mixed With Blood, Eberhardt says, reflects a more recent evolution in his approach to mixing different influences. At the same time, more abstract tracks like "Bloodbaths" are a deliberate thematic departure from beat-oriented ones like "Knives Out."
"The noise stuff I make is more about fixating on moments of pretty intense anxiety and depression in my life." Eberhardt says. "It's focusing on trauma, then going into these moments and creating an atmosphere to feel more connected and more in control of the situations I've been in in my life that have kind of inspired me to need an outlet to navigate." The continuum of emotions and sounds gets a little more nuanced on "Neurotoxicity Blues," which combines a slower-tempo beat with some scratchy guitar and quietly cavernous pockets of noise.
Eberhardt also sometimes plays actual DJ sets as DJ Speedsick, so just about every live show and new release keeps listeners off balance to some extent. "I thought it was funny for a noise project to have a DJ name," he admits. This year so far has been a productive one: He says he's made several dozen new tracks, and is currently working on his first vinyl release, which will collect some of his early techno tracks. And if his releases so far this year are any indication, the unsettling compost of sounds at work in DJ Speedsick's music will continue to morph.
"It's going to be this amount of time spent with me in my head," Eberhardt says.